Frequent fire slows microbial decomposition of newly deposited fine fuels in a pyrophilic ecosystem
© 2020, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Frequent fires maintain nearly 50% of terrestrial ecosystems, and drive ecosystem changes that govern future fires. Since fires are dependent on available plant or fine fuels, ecosystem processes that alter fine fuel loads like microbial decomposition are particularly important and could modify future fires. We hypothesized that variation in short-term fire history would influence fuel dynamics in such ecosystems. We predicted that frequent fires within a short-time period would slow microbial decomposition of new fine fuels. We expected that fire effects would differ based on dominant substrates and that fire history would also alter soil nutrient availability, indirectly slowing decomposition. We measured decomposition of newly deposited fine fuels in a Longleaf pine savanna, comparing plots that burned 0, 1, 2, or 3 times between 2014 and 2016, and which were located in either close proximity to or away from overstory pines (Longleaf pine, Pinus palustris). Microbial decomposition was slower in plots near longleaf pines and, as the numbers of fires increased, decomposition slowed. We then used structural equation modeling to assess pathways for these effects (number of fires, 2016 fuel/fire characteristics, and soil chemistry). Increased fire frequency was directly associated with decreased microbial decomposition. While increased fires decreased nutrient availability, changes in nutrients were not associated with decomposition. Our findings indicate that increasing numbers of fires over short-time intervals can slow microbial decomposition of newly deposited fine fuels. This could favor fine fuel accumulation and drive positive feedbacks on future fires.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Hopkins, J., Huffman, J., Platt, W., & Sikes, B. (2020). Frequent fire slows microbial decomposition of newly deposited fine fuels in a pyrophilic ecosystem. Oecologia, 193 (3), 631-643. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04699-5